Can Pre-workout Kill You? (Dangerous Risks Explained)

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD
Published by Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD | Medical Doctor
Last updated: January 26, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Dr. Kristy Dayanan, BS, MD
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As a medical doctor, I work with patients who incorporate pre-workout supplements into their fitness routines. While these products can provide a boost in energy and performance, it is crucial to address the potential dangers associated with excessive pre-workout consumption.

In this discussion, I will explore the risks involved and some safety tips to ensure the well-being of my patients and readers who use them.

While pre-workouts can offer advantages, it is my professional responsibility to underscore the potential hazards they pose when not used cautiously.

Quick Summary

  • Pre-workout supplements can kill you if you are dry scooping or regularly overdose beyond the recommended daily dosage.
  • The symptoms of pre-workout overdosing are increased caffeine tolerance, insomnia, frequent urination, headaches, and adrenal fatigue.
  • According to a study published by Food and Chemical Toxicology, the upper limit of caffeine consumption is 400 mg/day for adults.
  • Based on my observations, the safest pre-workout routine is one that balances supplementation with natural nutrition and hydration.

Can Pre-Workout Kill You?

A serious man holding pills

Yes, a pre-workout could potentially kill you if you go way over the recommended dose.

In my years of practice, I've seen cases where excessive pre-workout consumption led to severe health scares. However, a fatal outcome is incredibly rare and would involve going extremely beyond the recommended daily dosage.

But this doesn't mean they are dangerous. They are generally safe for fitness enthusiasts and provide amino acids to enhance mental focus during workouts.

In my practice as a medical doctor, I've found two ways pre-workouts can cause a fatality:

  • Overdosing
  • Dry scooping

Overdosing

Most pre-workout supplements come with dosage recommendations and warnings against exceeding them. The high caffeine content in some pre-workouts has led to jitters, insomnia, and more serious issues among my patients who didn't adhere to these guidelines.

Global inconsistency in formula standards further complicates safety, with ingredients varying in legality across countries. Food and Chemical Toxicology reports the safe upper limit for caffeine is 400 mg/day for adults [1].

According to WebMD, the average pre-workout contains 150–300 mg of caffeine per serving [2]. Exceeding this limit is easy, particularly for younger, less experienced fitness enthusiasts who often take multiple servings.

Dry Scooping

A scoop of a pre-workout powder

Dry scooping is when you consume your pre-workout as it is, without water or other liquids to wash it down.

It's one of the most dangerous trends I've seen in the fitness community. Many don't understand the danger involved. Dry scooping could choke you when the dry pre-workout blocks your throat.

You could also suffer a heart attack; a fate suffered by a young woman as reported by New York Post [3].

I always advise that it's much safer to mix your pre-workout with water.

“Dry scooping pre-workout supplements is dangerous and can lead to serious health risks. I would discourage people from dry scooping pre-workout supplements.”

- Dr. Jason Nagata, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of California San Francisco

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What Causes the Side Effects?

A man experiencing side effects

Drawing from my own experience, the side effects I've seen in patients—ranging from mild discomfort to severe reactions—are often tied to dosages that exceed the recommended limits.

If you’re someone who double-scoops or dry-scoops your pre-workouts, drinks coffee in the morning, and consumes energy drinks the same day, you’re definitely pushing past the safety limit.

Increased Caffeine Tolerance

As a medical doctor, I've observed that pre-workout supplements are most effective during the initial weeks of daily use.

Soon, a caffeine tolerance builds up, reducing the noticeable energy boost and tingling sensation. This tolerance might lead users to exceed the recommended dose to regain that initial kick.

Moreover, it’s important to consider caffeine's psychological effects. Regular consumption can create a dependency, not just physically but also mentally.

Users might experience a placebo-like effect, where the mere anticipation of pre-workout benefits enhances performance, independent of the supplement's actual biochemical impact.

Insomnia

A man experiencing insomnia

Pre-workouts can disturb your sleep cycle, especially if you take them in the evening or night.

According to reports in the National Journal of Medicine, caffeine increases the norepinephrine and epinephrine content in your body, which gives you mental alertness [4].

Since caffeine has a half-life of around 5 hours, it could take anywhere from 1.5 to 9.5 hours to flush it out of your system, as reported by Medical News Today [5].

If you consume pre-workout any time after the late evening, say goodbye to your chances of getting a good night's rest.

Liver Damage

According to a 2021 review published by the National Institutes of Health, overconsuming some pre-workout supplements could adversely affect your liver function [6].

Certain pre-workouts contain around 15–25 mg of niacin, and your body can tolerate around 30–50 mg, as per the US Department of Health Services [7]. So the average pre-workout cuts it pretty close.

A niacin overdose could lead to hepatitis and liver failure as reported in the National Journal of Medicine [8].

You May Also Like: Best Liver Detox Supplements

Frequent Urination and Dehydration

As a physician, I recall working with patients who, like many others, consumed pre-workout products containing caffeine. They often reported experiencing frequent urination during their exercise sessions, which could be attributed to caffeine's diuretic effects, as mentioned by WebMD [9].

The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders also reports that too much caffeine can cause diarrhea, leading to dehydration [10].

Headaches

A person having a headache

Caffeine in pre-workouts can lead to a headache and an increase in blood pressure when taken in excess.

Caffeine initially contracts your blood vessels, but the dilation after the effects wear off may cause migraines, as per reports published in the National Institutes of Health [11].

Some pre-workouts also contain L-citrulline.

According to the Journal of Headache and Pain, this chemical converts to arginine in the body; arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide—a key player in causing migraines [12].

Adrenal Fatigue

Long-term consumption of pre-workouts can stress the adrenal glands.

The stimulants in pre-workout, such as caffeine, stimulate the nervous system to heighten mental alertness and focus during exercise by increasing adrenaline (produced by the adrenal glands).

However, consuming too much of it can overstimulate the adrenal glands and cause adrenal fatigue.

“Since these formulas are not regulated by the FDA, the manufacturers do not need to follow any federally approved guidelines on safe dosing or content. Most pre-workout mixes are known to contain more than 200 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of two cups of coffee, which can improve energy levels but also increase the risk of high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and potentially a heart attack in patients with severe coronary disease.”

- Dr. Alejandro Pena Jr., MD, Cardiologist & Former Certified Personal Trainer

Some Safety Tips

Holding a supplement mixed beverage

Before you take any pre-workouts, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Have I researched the ingredient list and understood the benefits and downsides of each of them?
  2. Am I drinking lots of water every day?
  3. Do I get enough sleep even after consuming caffeine?
  4. Have I discussed the product with my physician?
  5. Is my pre-workout free from any ingredients that I’m allergic or sensitive to?
  6. Will taking this pre-workout exceed my daily caffeine intake?
  7. Am I susceptible to caffeine crashes and jitters?

If you answered ‘yes’ to the first four questions and ‘no’ to the last three, you may go ahead with your pre-workout.

That said, if you feel the symptoms of pre-workout overdose are too strong to wait out, then you need to get it out of your system immediately.

You should do the following:

  • Induce vomiting and get it out of your system
  • Drink water
  • Eat fatty foods

If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above after taking a normal dose of your pre-workout, then chuck it away. Speak to your physician and look for a product that works best for your needs.

Consider Natural Pre-workout Alternatives

In my experience working with many patients, natural pre-workouts provide a sustained energy boost without the unpleasant crash, making them a safer bet for many of my patients looking to avoid the rollercoaster of high-caffeine products.

Moreover, I've also explored natural pre-workout strategies, such as nutrient timing and hydration, which offer performance benefits without the need for any supplements at all.

FAQs

Can Pre-Workout Give You a Heart Attack?

Yes, overdosing on pre-workout could give you a heart attack. Contact your local physician before going on any pre-workout, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions.

Can Pre-Workouts Give You Stroke?

Yes, studies have shown that some pre-workouts can contribute to the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions and wish to go on a pre-workout, please speak to your physician about the ingredients.

Is It Bad To Dry-Scoop Your Pre-Workout?

Yes, it is bad to dry-scoop your pre-workout. Pre-workout powder by itself can be a choking hazard.

Can I Take Pre-Workout Safely Every Day?

Yes, you can take pre-workout safely every day. But you will likely build a tolerance towards it in a few weeks, so it’s better to take it only two to three times a week.

How Much Caffeine Is Safe to Drink?

For a healthy adult, up to 400 mg of caffeine a day is safe to drink. However, if you’re pregnant or have any pre-existing medical condition, the daily amount should be less.


References:

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027869151730170
  2. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/health-benefits-pre-workout-supplements
  3. https://nypost.com/2021/06/03/onlyfans-star-has-heart-attack-from-dry-scooping-tiktok-trend/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8964766/
  5. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321784
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32702243/
  7. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Niacin-HealthProfessional/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548176/
  9. https://www.webmd.com/urinary-incontinence-oab/everything-managing-incontinence
  10. https://iffgd.org/gi-disorders/lower-gi-disorders/diarrhea/common-causes/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662597/
  12. https://thejournalofheadacheandpain.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1007/s101940070036
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About The Author

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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